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The Philadelphia Museum of Art’s South Indian Pillared Temple Hall Turns 100

In autumn 1919, 64 huge, partially painted granite blocks carved with deities, humans, lions, leaves and lotus blossoms were unpacked from dusty crates and laid out on the lawn in front of Memorial Hall in Philadelphia’s Fairmont Park. This glass and iron-domed Beaux Arts structure, built for the 1876 Centennial Exposition, was the first home of the Pennsylvania Museum, later renamed the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Little was known about the blocks except that they were from a temple and had been purchased in the city of Madura (today’s Madurai, in Tamil Nadu) in southeast India by the daughter of the prominent Philadelphia family who had gifted them. Believing, despite an absence of evidence, that they came from a single building that had been deliberately dismantled, the blocks were all accessioned as one object. The carvings were celebrated as ‘the first complete Hindu monument ever brought to this country’ (The Sun, 5 October 1919).

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May/June 2020
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